Herculaneum is an ancient town located in modern-day Italy. Its distinction from the other ancient cities lies in the near-perfect preservation of its architecture, household items, and even well-maintained food. Today the Herculaneum ruins stand as a wonder of nature, essentially freezing time in 79 AD, enabling visitors to admire it almost 20 centuries later!
Ruins of Herculaneum | History
Although the origins of the city and how far it dates back to are a little ambiguous, we know that it was a trading hub because of its proximity to the Gulf of Naples. The village was predominantly owned by the Greeks before it became a Roman city in 89 BC after the Social War. In 79 AD, after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Herculaneum got buried under 20ft of ash and was undiscovered till 1709. While remnants of the city were found during earlier earthworks, the actual city was discovered in 1709 when workers were digging a well. Regular excavations began in 1738 and since then luxurious houses, papyrus scrolls, and even perfectly preserved food have been found on the site. Funds have been allotted to preserve the parts of the village that have already been uncovered, and excavation has been put to a halt for now.
Things to Do & See at Herculaneum Ruins
Men’s Baths (Thermae)
The Terme Centrali or Central Baths trace their origins back to the 1st century BC and were excavated in 1931. The bath was divided into areas for men and women, with changing rooms, wall niches to store clothing, and hot and cold rooms.
House of Neptune and Amphitrite
One of the most richly decorated in the village of Herculaneum with colorful mosaics and a courtyard, it is believed to have belonged to a rich family. One of the mosaics here depicts the god of the sea, Neptune, next to his wife Amphitrite, which lends the house its name.
Villa of the Papyri
This villa belonged to the father-in-law of the conqueror Julius Caesar, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. Its name comes from the 1785 papyrus rolls that were discovered in the library inside the villa. These rolls, preserved by the volcanic ash, contain Greek Philosophical texts that are still legible!
Fornici was the name of the port warehouse in the city. When the volcanic eruption threatened to kill the people of Herculaneum, many villagers tried to escape through the warehouses, but in vain. In 1980, around 300 human skeletons and artifacts were found here.
House of the Deer
This is another luxurious house in the ancient village most likely owned by an old man with great regard for serenity, not pomp. The name is derived from the sculpture of the deer that stood in the home park. The house would have opened up to a beautiful view of the Gulf of Naples.
House of the Relief of Telephus
This 3 story home built between 27 BC and 14 AD was decorated with sculptures from the Neo-Attic school, including one of Relief of Telephus or Rilievo di Telefo. He was the son of the legendary founder of the city, as per Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Hercules.
One of the oldest houses in Herculaneum, the Samnite House has a Greek-style atrium painted in the Fourth Style and even a rainwater pool! Amongst the objects found during the excavation, there is a mutilated statuette of Venus putting on her sandal and fragments of wooden table-legs carved in the form of a dog running.
Hall of the Augustals
This square structure was the seat for the College of the Augustales, a cult of free men devoted to Emperor Augustus. There are magnificent frescos of Greek gods on both walls. The skeleton of the building’s custodian was discovered on his bed, probably waiting for his death from the eruption.
House of the Black Room/Salon (Casa del Salone Nero)
The house was named after one of the rooms in the house which was covered in black frescos. It was one of the more luxurious houses in the village with a large entrance that featured beautifully decorated rooms.
House of the Beautiful Courtyard (Casa del Bel Cortile)
As the name implies, this was a house with a beautiful courtyard that occupies most of the entrance. The building was built in the 1st century AD and still has some of the decorations preserved for us to see. The murals here belong to the 4th style, which is majorly geometric patterns.
All Your Questions Answered About Herculaneum Ruins
Yes, Herculaneum is open from 1 November to 14 March. It is closed on 1 January, 1 May and 25 December.
Yes, it is one of the marvels of nature that essentially takes us back to the life and times of 1st century BC Italy.
You would need around 3-4 hours to explore the ruins.
Yes, kids are allowed in the Herculaneum ruins.
Visitors can take a train to Naples to get to Herculaneum. The train leaves from Termini railway station and drops you at Ercolano Scavi station in around 2-3 hours.
Herculaneum is famous for its ancient ruins and perfectly preserved houses.
Herculaneum is much smaller than Pompeii, however, it is much better preserved. This makes it a great compliment to a visit to Pompeii.
There are no storage facilities in Herculaneum so it’s advisable to carry a small purse or a carry bag. You can also carry snacks or full meals to have picnics in the garden as there are not a lot of eateries around.